Gaza ceasefire and after

Jan 20, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

January 20, 2009
Number 01/09 #07

As readers will probably be aware, on Saturday Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire coming into effect on Sunday (statements announcing the ceasefire from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are here and here, respectively). Hamas initially swore to fight on before announcing it would also implement a one-week ceasefire. Israel has now begun pulling many of its troops out of Gaza.

First up, collecting the news and analysis on these developments is a recent backgrounder from the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). This explores not only the details of the ceasefire, but such issues as what Israel believes it achieved in the conflict, the stepped up Israeli efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, tensions emerging within Hamas, and the international diplomatic discussions currently taking place. It also contains some good details about the divisions that are now emerging within the Arab world. For all the details you need to know about the current state of play post-Gaza ceasefire, CLICK HERE. Additional information on the extent of humanitarian supplies reaching Gaza, including a day by day breakdown, is here. More details on the general strategic situation at the moment come from Haaretz’s Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff.

Next up, with much more detail on the state of Hamas in the aftermath of Israel’s Gaza operations, is Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s leading journalist on Arab affairs, and a man renowned for his sources throughout the Palestinian territories. His sources tell him that it is widely agreed in Hamas that the military wing failed badly and effectively used the civilian population to protect themselves rather than protecting the population as they had boasted they would.  He says the outcome for Hamas is being compared internally to Hamma in Syria in 1982, where the military wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood provoked a particularly brutal crackdown from Damascus, and reveals there is increasing criticism within the organisation of the decision in 2007 to seize power in Gaza in a coup. Ya’ari concludes the Hamas emerging from the conflict is likely to be a rather different organisation. To read his complete analysis CLICK HERE. Ya’ari also participated in an interesting forum on the end of the conflict in Gaza with several others from the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.

Finally, Gadi Taub, Israeli academic and columnist, argues the Gaza war with Hamas was vital to any hope of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state resolution. He points out that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any genuine partition of Palestine, while Israelis today largely support it. But, he argues, both Hamas control of Gaza and the fear that any territory vacated will become a base for rocketing Israel were blocking any hope that partition could occur, and the Gaza operation was essential on both counts to allowing any real hope that progress toward that goal can resume. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.

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Key Points

  • Israel calls halt to its operation, believing its military objectives to have been met
  • Major Israeli humanitarian effort includes field hospital to treat Gaza civilians
  • International diplomatic effort now focused on ensuring Hamas does not rearm

Key Statements

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (17 January): “We have no disagreement with the residents of Gaza.  We consider the Gaza Strip a part of the future Palestinian state with which we hope to live a life of good neighbourliness, and we wish for the day when the vision of two states is realized.”

Foreign Secretary David Miliband (17 January): “The voice of the international community has been loud and unequivocal in calling for an immediate, permanent and fully respected ceasefire. It is now imperative that Hamas stops the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.”

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander (18 January): “From the British government’s point of view, we are clear that there is first of all a heavy responsibility on Hamas who have been firing these rockets – even in the hours since the unilateral ceasefire – into Israel. But equally, there are responsibilities on Israel.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (17 January): “Germany, France and Great Britain have just sent a letter to Israel and Egypt to say they will do everything we can to prevent arms trafficking.”

Situation on the ground

Israel’s unilateral ceasefire came into effect at 2am local time. Israeli forces were instructed to fire only if attacked or in response to rocket fire. Israel’s call of a unilateral ceasefire comes as a result of the belief that the damage already done to Hamas’s military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip Hamas will be effectively deter the movement from escalating rocket attacks against Israel in the future.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum declared on television on Saturday night that Hamas would not cease their attacks in spite of the ceasefire; and seven Grad rockets were fired into Israel on Saturday night after the ceasefire was declared and a further eights Qassams and three mortars were fired on Sunday morning. Israel returned fire against the rocket launchers. But on Sunday morning, Hamas spokesmen announced their own one week ceasefire, giving Israel a week to withdraw.

It was anticipated that Hamas would attempt to fire the last shots in order to try and create the impression that they had effectively stood up to Israel military operation. The real test of Israel’s military success will be developments in the weeks and months to come.

Israel assesses the achievements of its military operation to include:

  • Very heavy depletion of Hamas weapons stocks, rocket manufacturing and launching sites, infrastructure and smuggling tunnels.
  •  High number of Hamas fighters killed, including a number of senior commanders, technical experts and units who were trained in Iran.
  •  Establishing a new level of deterrence against Hamas militants and their allies in the region.
  • Far better functioning and coordination of its forces than in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, re-establishing the IDF’s reputation and confidence.
  • Low number of Israeli military casualties.
  • Changing the international environment to bring a new multilateral commitment to prevent Hamas arming itself.

Israeli humanitarian efforts

Despite continue Hamas efforts to launch attacks, Israel is nevertheless using the ceasefire to help facilitate a major humanitarian effort to address the needs of the civilians in Gaza. Israel is operating a Joint Humanitarian Coordination Centre to work with international agencies to address humanitarian issue in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s humanitarian efforts are under the political leadership of Israeli cabinet minister Isaac Herzog. Current steps include:

  • The opening of a forward emergency treatment centre for the people of Gaza at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. This will be a major emergency field hospital, operated by Israeli medical services with the cooperation of the Red Cross, exclusively to treat civilians from Gaza. Israel’s hospitals are also preparing to receive severely ill patients transferred from the Gaza Strip, as they did prior to the operation.
  • Israel will coordinate with UNRWA today to ensure the access of a convoy of Palestinian electrical technicians to repair a technical malfunction at the Nahal Oz fuel depot. This would enable the Palestinians to resume pumping fuel needed by the power plant to generate electricity.
  • Israel continued on Friday and Saturday to facilitate the transfer of truckloads of humanitarian aid and food into the Gaza Stip. On Friday trucks carrying 3333 tons of food and medical supplies entered and 115,000 litres of heavy duty diesel fuel for the power station. On Saturday a further 1135 tons of aid carried on 51 trucks entered and a further 115,000 litres of fuel. Since the beginning of the operation, 33,580 tons of humanitarian supplies have been transferred to Gaza in 1365 trucks. Also, 1,666,351 litres of fuel have been conveyed through Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom crossings.
  • – Israel has already facilitated the repair of Gaza’s main sewage treatment facility in Beit Lahiya. The IDF coordinated with Palestinian technicians on Wednesday, taking up defensive positions allowing the Palestinian technicians to safely refuel the plants generators and replace a part, averting a potential major ecological threat.

Diplomatic efforts to ensure long-term benefits accrue from damage done to Hamas

Israel’s central focus now is working with the West and moderate Arab states to ensure that severe damage done to Hamas both in terms of its military capabilities and its prestige, will lay the groundwork for a long-term reversal for the Iranian-led extremist camp in the region. Key elements will be a network of agreements between Israel, the US, European powers and Egypt defining international efforts to prevent Hamas from rearming and for the recovery of the Gaza Strip. Britain has already committed itself to play a leading role in that process. The key diplomatic pieces already in place include:

  • A US-led NATO commitment to prevent Hamas rearming in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum of understanding in Washington on Friday in which the US committed to:

“work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa.”

The following day, in what appears to be a coordinated step, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received a letter from the leaders of the key NATO allies Britain, Germany, Italy and France expressing their commitment to ensuring that weapons do not continue to reach the Gaza Strip. Speaking on Saturday Gordon Brown expressed his readiness to commit British naval force to stop smuggling to Gaza.

  •  Egyptian commitment to tackle smuggling

Israel has also received a proposal from the Egyptian president and has reached a series of understandings with the Egyptian government on various issues which relate to smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

  • A major international summit to be hosted by Egypt today in Sharm el Sheikh, to be attended by Gordon Brown.

The summit is being attended by key European leaders as well as Turkey and is addressing the issue of providing aid to the Gaza Strip and preventing Hamas from rearming. Gordon Brown has called for the ceasefire to be followed by work towards a final settlement. The international community now shares a common agenda with Israel and the moderate Palestinian camp to ensure that Hamas remains weakened.

Division within Hamas and within the Arab world

This conflict has uncovered more starkly than ever the divisions with Hamas, principally between its external leadership more heavily under the influence of Iran, and its internal leadership that must answer to the needs of the Palestinians in Gaza. A report in today’s Haaretz newspaper claims that Gaza based Hamas officials Ahmed Yousef and Ghazi Hamad have attacked the political bureau in Damascus, telling it: “You brought terrible disaster and death on Gaza.”

Developments over the weekend have also highlighted the extent of division within the Arab world between the extremist and moderate camps. A summit about the Gaza situation held in Qatar over the weekend, and attended by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, along with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Assad, was not attended by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Western orientated Arab states and the moderate Palestinian camp have expressed anger at Hamas’s intransigence and share Israel’s sense of threat at the ambitions of Iran to spread a radical Islamist agenda throughout the region. The divisions are expected to be further illustrated at an Arab summit due to take place in Kuwait on Monday.

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Cracks in Hamas

Ehud Ya’ari

Article to appear in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report.

Posted: Jan. 18, 2009

As the fighting continued in Gaza, important changes took place in Hamas – changes that will have a powerful effect at the end of the war. Of course, Hamas leaders will crown themselves with the victors’ laurels and try to sell a tale of success. But as Israel’s campaign entered its third week, the were hard-pressed to find buyers for their stories.

In the Arab world, an atmosphere of skepticism about Hamas’s claims of achievements on the battlefield prevailed, since, for the most part, these claims have turned out to be little more than transparent lies.

The growing criticism was best expressed on the important Arabic electronic newspaper ELAPH by Abd al-Fattah Shehadeh, who wrote on January 9 that Hamas is hiding behind the civilian population instead of defending it, as it had promised. Hamas, wrote Shehadeh, dug bunkers and tunnels, instead of building shelters for the residents of Gaza.

They brought catastrophe upon the Palestinians with the misguided calculation they had learned from Hizballah: “They turned houses and mosques into battlegrounds so that the people would protect them and those who trusted them now regret it.”

In this climate, it’s no wonder that a senior Hamas leader in Damascus, Muhamad Nazzal, has twice threatened to walk out of live broadcasts on Arab TV networks because the scathing questions posed to him were not to his liking. In one incident, Nazzal found it necessary to deny that Gazans had shown resentment against Hamas – a rare, if indirect, admission that a deep rift has opened up between Hamas and its constituency.

The simple fact is that Hamas was not fighting in the areas penetrated by the IDF, even though its defensive doctrine – drawn up under Iranian supervision with the assistance of Hizballah – is based on an attempt to stop the IDF’s infantry brigades outside of Gaza City, or at least to detain them.

Hamas abandoned the heart of “Qassamland” – the areas surrounding Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Atatra – almost without resistance. The offensive array of bunkers and tunnels, booby-trapped buildings prepared for detonation from afar, and all the other tricks adopted by Hamas were captured intact. From the perspective of the people of Gaza, Hamas simply abandoned the arena and fled into the crowded neighborhoods.

Once there, since the second day of the campaign, Hamas fighters have hurriedly shed their uniforms. Many of them simply deserted and returned to their families, taking their guns with them. In some locations, Hamas prevented civilians from leaving neighborhoods that were in the line of fire; overall, it invested great effort in blocking civilians who wished to flee to the south of the Strip.

Hamas forcefully appropriated the few international aid deliveries, hijacked ambulances in order to move from one location to another, and carried out public executions of Fatah activists. In many cases, Hamas fighters showed “forgiveness” and made do with shooting the Fatah men in the legs.

All of this was going on while the entire political leadership of Hamas was hiding in the basements of hospitals such as Shifa in Gaza City or Kamal Adwan near Beit Lahiya.

Sporadically, they released videos from their places of hiding. The rather pathetic impression they created is that of a leadership that abandoned its population and was busy trying to save its own skin.

The same goes for the military leadership. The entire command of the Izz-al-din al-Qassam Brigades went into hiding, leaving only rocket crews to continue firing according to pre-prepared plans, to the extent that they were able to do so. Gradually, the signs of distress became evident here too, due to Israel’s accurate hits from the air and sea and tank fire on the rocket launchers.

Voices began to emerge from within Hamas – in particular from activists in the West Bank, but also from Gaza – contending that the movement’s military wing not only carried out a putsch in June 2007 when it captured the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, but did the same thing within the movement as well, taking over the decision-making process in the political wing of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.

These critics contend that the organization thus dragged the Strip into a premature and hopeless military conflict.

More than once, I have heard from sources close to Hamas that the situation in Gaza is similar to the disaster that befell the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, when its military wing, led by Marwan Hadid, instigated an insurrection in Syria without the authorization of the spiritual leadership. This resulted in the massacre carried out by then-president Hafiz Asad in the town of Hamma and the wholesale slaughter of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood detainees at the Tadmor Prison.

To this day, in internal Muslim Brotherhood discourse, the “Hamma Affair” is seen as the classic example of how not to do things.
The case of Gaza may well take its place in the same bracket.

What we have seen thus far during the fighting is a transformation of Hamas from a government to an underground body, from a popular mass movement to a loose group of armed gangs. This situation will not necessarily continue for a long time, but its memory will not be easily erased.

Hamas has the ability to rehabilitate itself and this should not be taken lightly. But this time it will be hard to mollify Palestinian public opinion. There is no enthusiasm for Hamas’s period in power; its fighting prowess has hardly inspired awe, and there is no longer any faith in its leaders. •

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Parting Shots

Will the Gaza War usher in a two-state solution?

Gadi Taub 

The New Republic, 
February 04, 2009

For many years, these were the terms in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was widely understood: The Palestinians were struggling for partition, while Israel was the reluctant party. On the surface, Israel’s invasion of Gaza might appear to confirm that dynamic. But, in fact, the opposite is true: Israel’s current war in Gaza could turn out to be a necessary step toward imposing a two-state solution on a Palestinian side that has long balked at partition.

We are back, it seems, at square one. In 1947, Zionists accepted the United Nations’s partition plan because it would secure an area with a Jewish majority. Palestinians rejected it for much the same reason: If the land were not divided, they would have a clear Arab majority in all of it. While it is true that the idea of Greater Israel held appeal for many Israelis in the decades following the Six Day War, a solid majority in Israel turned toward partition in 1993 when it committed to the Oslo framework. In return for peace, Israel was ready to give up the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza. Then came what Israelis understood to be the moment of truth: Camp David in 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered an almost full withdrawal from the occupied territories, including a division of Jerusalem. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer. There would be no deal, he insisted, without the right of return. Israelis knew the code: The right of return meant millions of Palestinians naturalized on the Israeli side of the divide. It was a plain, ringing “no” to partition.

Gradually, Israelis, or a great many of them, began to realize that history was repeating itself: As in 1947, the Palestinian leadership seemed determined to hold out for a single state–nominally a binational one–in which Jews would constitute a minority. Still, this took a while to sink in. In 2003, Labor’s Amram Mitzna ran on a platform of unilateral withdrawal and was trounced by Likud’s Ariel Sharon. Yet, two years later, Sharon implemented the very policy he had defeated in that election. The unilateral evacuation of Gaza was considered a success–and the polls predicted a clear victory for Sharon’s new party, Kadima, which was poised to continue the same policy in the West Bank. The party won the election, despite Sharon’s lapse into a coma. Ehud Olmert became prime minister. Olmert was adamant about the need for unilateral withdrawal and made clear that he would move the dividing line closer to the 1967 border than Sharon would have. At this point, full partition seemed right around the corner.

But Qassam rockets kept coming from Gaza, despite its liberation from the Israeli occupation. The Lebanon War of 2006, when Israel was unable to stop the barrage of Hezbollah shells in the north, reinforced the danger such rockets posed. Suddenly, many former supporters of the Gaza pullout were no longer sure about withdrawing from the West Bank. Wouldn’t such a pullout mean rockets fired on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel’s international airport, they wondered? The once-promising idea of unilateral withdrawal now seemed like an untenable risk.

And that is where things stood on the eve of the Gaza operation: The Palestinian Authority had managed to block partition by agreement, while Hamas had managed to block partition by unilateral withdrawal. The Israeli incursion into Gaza offers a way around this impasse. By stopping the rockets once and for all, the war could represent a step toward assuring Israelis that, following a West Bank pullout, the whole country would not turn into one big Sderot. In other words, the war may be an opportunity to create the circumstances needed for further withdrawals and, ultimately, complete partition.

Of course, this is not what Israelis–and Israel’s politicians–are talking about at the moment. The question of the West Bank is on the back burner now, and stopping the rockets from Gaza is, to be sure, an end in itself. Moreover, while stopping the rockets is a necessary condition for any future West Bank pullout, it is probably no longer a sufficient one. The long spell of shelling in Sderot has rekindled the sense of national claustrophobia that is always present beneath the surface in this small state, surrounded as it is by a hostile region. It will take a while for that claustrophobia–on which the hawkish Likud may soon ride to power–to recede. Even when it does, Israel will likely want some international guarantees against rockets in the West Bank before it contemplates withdrawing to the 1967 borders.

Still, most Israelis know that a two-state solution is vital to their country’s survival in the long run. Meanwhile, the rockets have only strengthened their suspicion that Palestinian leaders are bent on thwarting partition. As a result, once the smoke clears, unilateral withdrawal will again be the order of the day. And the war, if it succeeds, will have removed a sizeable obstacle on the road to partition. That could be its true significance.

Gadi Taub teaches communications and public policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is an op-ed columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth.

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